“Then God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.’ So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments.’” (35:1-2)
Not a lot about Jacob’s life impresses me. God speaks to him again and it seems like Jacob does a sort of, “Oh yeah, HIM! Everyone! Quick! Bury our other gods!” Then, after he spends two seconds in Bethel, he moves on from there (35:16). In any case, he ends up in the general vicinity.
I managed to write out the family trees of Esau and Seir (why not? I’ve got the time, plus I need visuals), and all you need to know is that there is some intermixing going on. Not a lot, but some. Oholibamah is a wife of Esau (36:14,18), but also the daughter of Anah, the son of Seir. Esau’s concubine, Timna (36:12), is the sister of Lotan (36:22), the son of Seir. Bada-bing, bada-boom. There you go.
Now here’s where it gets confusing:
“When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite;” (26:34)
“So Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Isaac; and Esau went to Ishmael, and married, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.” (28:8-9)
“Esau took his wives from the daughters of Canaan: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah and the granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite; also Basemath, Ishmael’s daughter, the sister of Nebaioth.” (36:2-3)
Get your story straight! Is Basemath Elon the Hittite’s daughter or is she Ishmeal’s?Did you mean Adah back in 26:34? Who are all these extra ladies? Judith? Mahalath? Nebaioth? Did they not have kids? Who knows. Anyway… this is what I get for inspecting passages I usually gloss over.
Is the point that Esau married local, while Jacob married his cousins? Because, at this point, both are rife with the worship of other gods.
Anyway, Genesis was written as an identity document for Israel, so maybe they don’t 100% care what Ishmael and Esau did at this point in the story. These people don’t actually flutter off into obscurity, they just aren’t the main characters in this telling of history.
That’s what I always need to remind myself of. I always want to compare to see if God chose the best of the best. But see what Paul, a Jew who had studied these stories his whole life observed:
“God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,” (1 Corinthians 1:27)
Although Esau didn’t receive “the blessing”, he had more kids than Jacob. They were both wealthy (36:7). But this story isn’t about Esau, it’s about Jacob, even though he’s not that great and his kids are even worse.
It’s always important to remember what the purpose and occasion of a book is. It helps us understand when things seem thousands of years out of our context.
What parts of this story seem strange to you?